"Most young people are naive about the amount hard work and dedication it takes to succeed in a creative field" - Bill Shotton

Bill Shotton holds a Bachelor's and Master's in Music Theory. He has won several awards for music composition and song-writing. Bill has many years of experience teaching music and directing musical productions for young students, most recently at The Todd Academy, a private school in Indianapolis, Indiana. Recently, Bill was here in Kolkata for a workshop titled “Songs of the Sea” organized by The Park Street Ladies  Circle, where students got to learn  songs with nautical themes including Sloop John B, and The Rule of the Ocean. 

How did your tryst with music happen?

I guess it started with my family. One of the things we would do as a family, when I was young, was listening to records together. We used to know the same songs and same songs and that’s how I had gained a lot of interest in listening to music. There was a hard time in my 20's and basically I had lost my job. I decided to earn a living that time by playing the piano and it wasn’t been easy at all. But I decided to do so.

Considering the fact that some of your songs revolve around social issues, what do you hope people will be inspired to do, or what you hope people will be motivated to do, when they listen to your music?
I acknowledge that the world is fraught with many complicated issues, and simple solutions are often not possible. However, I believe that there is too much fear and not enough sympathy in the world. My opinions regarding social issues will fall into this philosophy, and I suppose this is what I want others to get from such songs.
Is there a certain artist that inspired you as you were growing up? Or is there a certain philosophy that has always guided you during your music making?
The first three musicians I knew as a child: John Prine, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings. These three were pioneers of country and folk music. Then around age 11 I fell madly in love with classical music. I had a cassette Walkman that I would listen to at night while in bed. I found Bach, Vivaldi, and Mozart to be especially profound. As a teenager I discovered the Beatles in my Dad's record collection and they opened up the history of rock. So from there: The Doors, The Stones, Pink Floyd, etc.
A lot of young musicians would love to study music at Berkley or any other institution; however not many have the means to. That being said, do you think a formal education in music is important?
It all depends on what you want to do. A formal education is important for success the academic world, and the world of art music. True geniuses can bypass all of this, but they are very rare. If however, your goal is to become a great musician you can do it on your own if you find the right teachers and work really, really hard. Most young people are naive about the amount hard work and dedication it takes to succeed in a creative field. I used to think that my talent was enough; it's not.
For you, what is the significance of the process of collaboration – bringing your perspective together with other artists and their world views/creative visions? Are you looking at collaborations with Indian musicians?
The creative process is a habit that is isolated in the artists brain. When we collaborate, the process becomes shared externally.  Collaboration not only changes the outcome of the joint project, it can also have a permanent effect on your creative habits. I am very much interested in collaborating with Indian musicians,  but so far I haven't had any luck making connections.
In today's world, once one starts making music professionally, just making good music does not suffice.  What are your views?

Well it begs the question, suffice for what? For fame and wealth? No. If you are dreaming of becoming a rock star,  you have to sell more than music, you also have to sell culture, attitude, style, and sex. Even then, you have to be in the right place at the right time and know the right people. But does it suffice to earn a modest living and a parcel of happiness? I think so, but that is a question each musician must settle individually.
The theme of your workshop here in Kolkata was “songs of the sea”. Why the Nautical theme?
Well, I worked with the Park Street Ladies Circle for this workshop, and two ladies from the circle arranged everything for me- it was great they were very professional and knew what needed to be done. They suggested having a theme. I chose the Nautical theme because there are a lot of good songs about the sea: Yellow Submarine, and Sloop John B, for example.
What is your word of advice for aspiring singer songwriter?

You need to learn other people songs. Learn to play other people’s music. Learn the classics; people who have done it well. Then try to write your own songs. The aim of the songwriter is to evolve some kind of emotional response. So, if you don’t feel anything yourself, you are not going to get any response from other people.

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear about Kolkata?

The architecture and the crows. The colonial style blended with the aged look along with the abundance of crows gives it a gothic feeling. Kolkata is one of my favourite city!

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